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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Address to Montenegrin Parliament

Official visit to Montenegro

Podgorica, 11 November 2010

Mr Speaker, [Mr Prime Minister, Ministers,]

Members of Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a privilege to address you in this House today, right after the publication of the Commission’ Opinion on Montenegro’s application for membership of the EU.

This is an important moment for the relations between the European Union and Montenegro. After more than a year of preparations the Commission has presented its Opinion. This concludes that Montenegro has made important progress on its way towards meeting the criteria for membership of the European Union and recommends it to be granted the status of a candidate country.

This is good news for Montenegro, it is good news for the region and it is good news for the EU enlargement policy. A lot has already been achieved in EU-Montenegro relations. I am happy to recall that Montenegrin citizens have enjoyed visa free travel in the Schengen area for almost a year now. In May 2010, a new step forward was made with the entry into force of the Stabilisation and the Association Agreement (SAA). This brought about a new set of mutual obligations reinforcing our dialogue and co-operation.

I expect that next month the European Council will approve the Commission's recommendations in the Opinion and grant you officially the status of a candidate country.

Such a record would have been difficult to think of only a few years ago. These achievements became possible thanks to the commitment and determination of the Montenegrin authorities, the government, the parliament, and of course of the Montenegrin people who expect to take their rightful place in a prosperous and peaceful European continent.

Here in this House, you have been able to achieve a solid consensus on your country's European perspective. You ratified unanimously the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. All resolutions related to the European Union have been adopted also unanimously. I was able to see this consensus first hand during the last inter-parliamentary meeting with the European Parliament in September 2010.

Such a strong consensus is very valuable. The process of EU integration is a challenging one and requires mobilisation of all political and social forces. Experience from the last wave of enlargement has shown that efforts are successful when they are based on a consensus and when the process is inclusive.

Consensus should not be seen as a total agreement between government and opposition on all issues – this would be unthinkable in a democracy – but as a common ownership of the EU accession process as the final objective and a basic understanding on the key reforms needed to fulfil the membership criteria. Consensus is furthermore a guarantee for the sustainability of these reforms over the years.

Mr Speaker, I believe that the Parliament of Montenegro has a crucial role to play in the realisation of your country's preparation for the European Union. As a legislator and controller of the executive, you are the main pillar of democratic governance. Furthermore, you can play a key role in informing Montenegro's citizens on European integration and integrating the citizens' concerns and their feedback to the process.

The legislative work that the Montenegrin Parliament has carried out so far has been considerable. This work should continue. However, what is crucial now is to translate laws into practice, into solid and tangible results.

The ability of the Parliament to exercise effective control over the performance of the government is an indispensable element in a democracy. The challenges on the road to Europe are significant. You can play an even more important role in this process with strengthened administrative capacity and improved efficiency in the functioning of this House.

The Parliament's role, its achievements and continuing challenges are extensively covered in the Opinion. We pay tribute to your commitment and the substantial results achieved. We encourage you to continue on the same way. It is important that the parliament's capacity to play its role is enhanced, for the benefit of democracy in your country.

In the Opinion the European Commission has done its utmost to produce a fair and objective analysis which accurately represents the situation on the ground. We have recognised progress and reforms and we have concluded that Montenegro is well on its way to fulfil the Copenhagen political criteria.

We have also identified key challenges for the future, in order to guide the country on its further efforts. The Parliament has a key role in steering these efforts in order to address the identified challenges and allow the country to move towards the opening of accession negotiations.

In this context I would like to underline two issues in which I believe the parliament can play a key role. These are the judicial reform and the strengthening of the framework for elections. On the former, I would like to stress how crucial it is for Montenegro to continue on the path made towards de-politicisation of the judiciary with the adoption of the Constitution in 2007 and take further steps to that direction. Equally important is to strengthen the professionalism, the accountability and the efficiency of the judicial system. This is a key for Montenegro's accession. On the latter I think you are all aware of the requirement that election legislation and administration is upgraded and recommendations of the OSCE-ODIHR and the Venice Commission are addressed.

Montenegro's future is in your hands. We, in the Commission, are your partner in the process and you can count on our support.

Neither Montenegro, nor any other aspiring country can afford to underestimate the challenges on the road to accession. Corruption and organised crime in Montenegro are serious challenges. Legislation must be vigorously enforced; a convincing track record of pro-active investigations, prosecutions and final convictions is required. Prevention of corruption and conflict of interest at all levels needs to be strengthened. The earlier these rule of law issues are tackled, the smoother the later negotiations on the key chapters will be.

Lessons learnt from previous enlargements demonstrate that work to address challenges in the rule of law area need to start as early as possible in the process. No need to wait for negotiations to open to start delivering results. Reforms in these areas take time to bear fruit and the earlier you start, the more time you will have to consolidate reforms.

Implementation of reforms requires the necessary structures and capacity. Investing in upgrading administrative capacity, pursuing public administration reform and enhancing professionalism and de-politicisation in the public administration is therefore highly important. Media freedom and cooperation with civil society need to be strengthened. These are important pillars of a free democratic society. I know that you here in the Parliament of Montenegro pay particular attention to both.

Further efforts are also needed to strengthen anti-discrimination policy and to ensure the access of displaced persons to economic and social rights. This requires additional legislative efforts and a close monitoring of the implementation of the legal framework.

At this point, I would also like to pay tribute to the constructive and stabilising role played by Montenegro in the region. Regional cooperation is essential to promote reconciliation. The EU pays particular importance to its strengthening. Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are important in the process of moving towards the European Union. There are still some outstanding bilateral issues between the countries of the region, which must be addressed and solved in parallel to the Stabilisation and Association Process.

Ladies and gentlemen, the policy of enlargement is one of the fundamental policies of the European Union. Some may think that we are putting the standards to be achieved too high. However, what is at stake is not when one or the other aspiring country will enter the EU, but how to make sure that the area of peace and prosperity, of democracy, social development and human rights in our continent will be enhanced and strengthened.

It is important to maintain and strengthen the credibility of the whole enlargement policy. Let's ensure that enlargement is a win-win game for all. Countries should advance when they fulfil the criteria.

Integration into the European Union is a considerable undertaking; it requires vision, political will and courage to carry through the necessary reforms and hard work. Montenegro has showed commitment and determination to follow this path.

And as we know, hard work always pays off. I am confident that the good news of the Opinion will give a new momentum to continue the country's reform efforts. It is important that your achievements are further consolidated and enhanced. It is now up to you to deliver the necessary results so as to move Montenegro's integration process forward.

I am convinced that – with the help of the Member States and the European institutions - but mainly with the mobilisation of the resources of the Montenegrin people – Montenegro can take its rightful place within the European family.

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